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TipSheet: City Council, 3.26.20

Thursday, March 26, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Today City Council meets for its first regular meeting since shelter-in-place orders designed to slow the spread of coronavirus were put into effect. In light of the public health crisis, Council will be meeting virtually, with half of the members at City Hall and half working from home. Likewise, only the most essential city staff will physically be in attendance. The city is asking members of the public to stay home, and comments from the public will be taken at 2 p.m. over the phone, at the start of the meeting. There is more information about how this meeting will take place in our previous coverage and on the City Council Message Board. The intention here is to hold a meeting that only deals with the essential items: public hearings, proclamations and music have all been postponed. In addition, Council Member Greg Casar noted on his Monday Facebook Live that Council is aiming to limit discussion on non-COVID-19 items, so keep that in mind while planning your day. Below, we’ve noted the things that are likely to be of interest in this unique, abbreviated meeting. As usual, Council’s agenda has been posted online in its entirety here.

Item 2: Approve the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2030.

Monitor’s Take: Though there has been some pushback online to the idea of passing this massive plan when everyone is so distracted, judging from the discussion on the Council message board, it looks like this will move forward today, as both commissions in charge of recommendations on the plan and the working group have embraced it. However, it looks like Council may include a provision that would update the plan every two years instead of every five, so we’ll see what happens.

Item 31: Authorize negotiation and execution of a multi-term contract with Bike Share of Austin, to provide maintenance of the City’s bike share program bicycles and infrastructure assets, for up to two years for a total contract amount not to exceed $336,000. (Note: This procurement was reviewed for subcontracting opportunities in accordance with City Code Chapter 2-9C Minority Owned and Women Owned Business Enterprise Procurement Program. For the services required for this procurement, there were no subcontracting opportunities; therefore, no subcontracting goals were established).

Monitor’s Take: Again, this is one of the few non-COVID items that has garnered a bit of discussion, so we’re keeping an eye on it. At issue is the length of the contract – Council Member Jimmy Flannigan expressed concern about using parking fund dollars to fund the program prior to Council’s Mobility Committee getting a chance to dig into the financial structure. It looks, though, that a compromise has been struck and the contract is now likely to be nine months long, for now.

Item 43: Authorize negotiation and execution of two emergency contracts and approve the ratification of any funds expended prior to this authorization, with Texas Disposal Systems Inc., and Central Waste and Recycling, LLC, for the collection, transportation, processing, and disposal of refuse, recycling, brush, and compostable materials generated by City facilities, for a term not to exceed six months in an amount not to exceed $534,000, divided between the contractors. (Note: Contracts are exempt from the City Code Chapter 2-9C Minority Owned and Women Owned Business Enterprise Procurement Program; therefore, no subcontracting goals were established).

Monitor’s Take: Our readers know we’ve had our eye on this contentious contract to empty city dumpsters for a while now. Given its history, it’s likely to be one of the longest non-public-health items we hear today. The good news is that there has not yet been a gap in service, but we’ll check in on the future regardless.

Item 87: Approve an ordinance temporarily waiving Section 2-1-6(E) of City Code regarding meetings of boards and commissions and declaring an emergency.

Monitor’s Take: With a shelter-in-place order enacted, without this ordinance there won’t be city meetings for a while. And with things happening so fast, plenty of board and commission members are no doubt eager to weigh in and there are still things to be done at City Hall, despite everything. This ordinance would allow commissions to meet remotely for an indefinite period of time. As yet, there is no word on how exactly those meetings would take place, but you know we’ll keep you posted!

Item 88: Approve a resolution authorizing the creation of a temporary Austin Economic Injury Bridge Loan Program and guidelines to permit the use of available Section 108 funding to provide economic injury disaster loans to small and non-profit businesses in accordance with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Small Business Administration guidelines and regulations.

Monitor’s Take: In light of the financial chaos that has hit businesses in recent weeks, this is an effort from Council to help small businesses and provide “gap financing” for those awaiting larger loans that have now been made available. Here’s a story from KUT that explains it well.

Item 90: Approve an ordinance requiring landlords to provide a notice of proposed eviction that gives tenants a 60-day opportunity to respond before giving a notice to vacate, creating an offense and penalty, and declaring an emergency.

Monitor’s Take: As we covered earlier in the week and today, this is an effort to protect renters who have lost income over the past few weeks as a result of the public health crisis that has shut down and slowed many industries. This measure would delay evictions and prevent notices to vacate for at least the next 60 days. Despite what seems to be strong Council support for the emergency ordinance (which would go into effect immediately), we’re still expecting some discussion and possible refinements. Read the full revised draft ordinance here.

Item 91: Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to develop programs and consider options to support the small and local businesses and workers impacted by the cancellation of SXSW and the additional subsequent measures taken to address COVID-19; and authorize the waiver or suspension of resolutions related to programs and policies cited in the resolution as necessary to effectuate this resolution.

Monitor’s Take: When this resolution first came out of Council Member Flannigan’s office it was focused on the impact that the cancellation of SXSW would have on local industry. Since then it has obviously expanded. For a quick overview of what this resiliency plan might now look like we suggest you head to the Council message board discussion or catch up on our most recent coverage.

Item 92: Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to identify and evaluate options for reducing utility bill impacts for customers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Monitor’s Take: From Council Member Kathie Tovo’s office comes this resolution, which seeks to help those impacted by the pandemic by lessening the burden of utility bills. One of the first things Council did in response to the pandemic was to halt the cutting off of residents’ utilities due to late or non-payment. This resolution takes things a little further by asking staff to adjust the criteria for emergency financial aid and explore other options for those having trouble paying their utility bills.

Item 93: Briefing on matters relating to COVID-19.

Monitor’s Take: Today’s briefing on COVID-19 will be taken up last and is likely to be quite involved, as this is the first time Council will have a chance to talk about everything that has taken place – and the future – as a group.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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